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Business deals

Nikon rockets into satellite parts by buying Boeing-backed startup

Deal for Morf3D sees Japanese camera maker turn to aerospace as new growth driver

The Small Satellite Orbital Deployer on the International Space Station is shown in this NASA photo. The market for small satellites is expected to grow.

TOKYO -- Japanese camera maker Nikon has bought a majority stake in U.S. startup Morf3D, an aerospace supplier whose customers include Boeing, in a deal estimated at nearly 10 billion yen ($91 million), Nikkei has learned.

The acquisition, which took place on Friday and will be announced Tuesday, gives Nikon a foothold in the supply chain for small satellites, a growing field of the aerospace industry.

Driving the move is the shrinking market for one of Japan's leading camera brands.

California-based Morf3D was founded in 2015 and mainly makes parts for satellites using 3D printing. The company has received funding from Boeing's venture capital arm and also does business with other American and European aerospace companies.

Nikon gains representation on Morf3D's board of directors and will send engineers to the startup to solidify their operational ties.

Satellite components must be both strong and lightweight, with as few bolted or other joints as possible.

Nikon has strength in optical processing machines, a kind of 3D printing technology used to build up metal components from a powder-like material. The company will apply this technology to making aerospace components for sale through Morf3D's sales channels.

The small-satellite market is expected to grow to $7.1 billion in 2025 from $2.8 billion in 2020, according to Indian research firm MarketsandMarkets.

Elon Musk's SpaceX plans to launch a network of 12,000 satellites to provide global high-speed internet access, while Amazon looks to put into orbit over 3,000 communication satellites.

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